Adapting to mobile-first customers

Customer Management

It comes as little surprise to merchants how customers are increasingly making purchases through websites. However, what may raise an eyebrow or two is how quickly mobile spending is projected to take off. In recent years, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have often been slated as browsing and research tools – people use them to look up store locations, read product reviews, find coupons and otherwise inform their shopping experiences.

But a recent infographic from PayPal noted that tendency is changing quickly, which means retailers may have to adjust how they engage mobile customers. Just as many retailers made the change to embrace online shoppers, they will also need to pivot to better serve mobile device users.

Shoppers know no boundaries

Over the next few years, shoppers across the globe are expected to start purchasing more products via smartphones and tablets. As of 2013, approximately $102 billion was spent by global customers via mobile devices – a significant number, but not a huge portion of international eCommerce sales. To put that figure in perspective, desktop shoppers in the United States alone spent more than $200 billion last year.

PayPal expects mobile expenditures to roughly triple by 2016.

However, PayPal expects mobile expenditures to roughly triple by 2016. The rise of millennials and their entry into the workplace will drive increased mobile spending, with the digital payment provider anticipating $290 billion in worldwide mobile spending to occur in 2016. The growth of smartphone and tablet expenditures will come largely at the expense of desktop purchases – whereas 85 percent of digital spending comes from desktop computers as of the last 12 months, PayPal forecasts that number to decline to 79 percent, with smartphones and tablets picking up the slack.

So, why are more people using smartphones to make digital purchases? A lot of it stems from the evolving role of the smartphone in the shopping process. Right now, smartphones are being utilized primarily as pocket Web devices – when people shop using their phones, they are looking for information. PayPal noted that 36 percent use mobile browsers to search for product information, 27 percent utilize phones to find data about local stores (such as location or hours of operation) and one-quarter leverage their handheld devices to read customer or user reviews.

One-fifth of PayPal payments globally stem from mobile devices.

From PayPal’s perspective in particular, the payment processor has found that nearly one-fifth of total payments globally through the service stem from mobile devices, suggesting these tools are taking a more pronounced role in the shopping experience. But smartphones and other mobile devices are comparatively new to mainstream usage, and with the capabilities of these devices on the rise, people are constantly redefining their roles in the shopping experience. PayPal discovered that 16 percent of people want to use their phones as payment devices in the future, tapping them at point of sale kiosks instead of swiping cards. Additionally, 15 percent expressed interest in pre-purchasing goods ahead of time – they want to buy item on their phones and drive to stores to pick them up. This extends past retail and goes into other sectors as well, such as ordering takeout meals on their phones and picking them up at restaurants later.

Making mobile about more than just websites

Retailers understand the importance of reaching customers across a variety of channels. Several merchants have concluded that customers who shop across multiple channels tend to be more profitable prospects. They can make more informed purchase decisions and also interact with merchants more frequently from initial research to final transaction.

With this in mind, retailers must realize that mobile shopping is about more than making a pocket-sized version of the website that customers can use. This is an effective first step, but it is just that – the first thing retailers need to do to serve mobile shoppers. As PayPal noted, however, people are coming to expect more than just a YellowPage-esque info dump, they want some flexible functionality.

In-store pick-up, beacon technology that helps tailor the in-store shopping experience, and checkout at the point of sale – are all important to integrate with mobile devices

Retailers need to empower mobile-first customers. This means integrating in-store pickup, beacon technology that helps retailers tailor the in-store shopping experience to customers, and check out at the point of sale with mobile devices.

As people become more comfortable with their smartphones and tablets, and as these technologies continue to improve themselves, it is likely they will only become more ingrained in the purchase process. Retailers hoping to capitalize on this trend need to transition away from the train of thought that the desktop is the go-to platform for digital shoppers and come to terms with the fact that it is quickly becoming smartphones and tablets.

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